Good music is here!
I listened to "City In The Clouds" twice: the first time while I was reading an artbook, during a lazy sunday afternoon; the second time on monday early morning, without doing anything else, focusing my attention on the melody, arrangements, production. In both cases - if heard as background music or with the careful ear of a music lover - this album sounds very good! Daniel and his staff made a great work with the production and the recording, but it is not its only worth: Daniel used a huge variety of instruments to record its songs, which make every piece rich, complex and surprising even after a first listening. Yes, the great fantasy of the composer has a clear reflection in his use of the musical instruments - softwares or acoustic - always interesting and never boring. I close the flow of my thoughs with an highlight...the track called "Playground Meadows": here the richness of the arrangement and the melody gives us - in my opinion - the best piece of the album.
City in the Clouds - a review
Few artists possess the innate ability of painting clear and vivid pictures with their creative output, just as if they single-handedly wanted to invent a new genre of their own. Daniel Lippert’s debut album fits the bill nicely as it is both wonderfully entertaining and a strong display of a dedicated craftsmanship, which is hard to find these days.
Daniel has spent more than a year on his “City in the Clouds” and his passion for the project and attention to detail is evident all around, from the artwork to the songs themselves. Supported by an equally gifted team of guest musicians and a production of the highest quality (with a touch of vintage 1980’s aesthetics), this album offers access to a pure and perfect fantasy world, which most grown-ups probably experienced for the last time in their childhood?
But Daniel’s music is not limited only to taking us back to our more carefree days, the idea is much simpler: this is a multi facetted glimpse into his highly audiophile imagination. No lyrics necessary, no dramas needed.
Even though this is a concept album, the songs function equally well outside the context. With a total running time of 51 minutes, the 12 tracks never overstay their welcome as they subtly and seamlessly fade into each other and are neither monotonous nor superficial at any point.
Our gateway to the city is opened with the short intro “Sea Mist”, in which thoughtful notes of a live piano, embedded in the breaking of waves, set a quiet, introspective mood.
But things soon take a slightly different direction with tracks 2 and 3, “Afternoon at the Shore” and “Calm Summer Breeze”. Both song titles truly speak for themselves as they carry the listener away from terrestrial constraints and instead inspire warm peaceful moments of relaxation and thus the listener arrives in their own city in the clouds.
The fourth song “Flight into Night Sky” moves us above ground and here is where the album shifts gears. The hymn-like, uplifting theme may contrast the vibe that has been set by the previous ones a little bit but it doesn’t feel out of place at all.
The title track “City in the Clouds” presents itself as a tender reassurance that whatever follows, it’s going to stay a well guided and serene tour until the end. Positive emotions felt by visiting such a dreamlike location are elicited.
In track 6, “Playground Meadows” with its cheerful flute and subtle strings arrangement, Daniel further cements the fact that we are in the safest place of wonder imaginable. While other artists probably would have set up a few darker aspects for the audience by now, Daniel’s determination to keep his little epic free of threatening dark clouds is unwavering. On a personal note, this is the only downside of the album for me, but it definitely seems like the right way to go, because that also means he never unnecessarily risks the momentum that he has built up so far.
Track 7, the adventurous “Fire under Water” marks a slight departure into more suspenseful, more energetic regions (fans of Yuzo Koshiro’s work might consider this one a favourite).
The following short piece “Ultramarine Passage” which may (or may not) serve as an intro to track 9,“Chambers of Stone” both express calm paired with faint touches of mystery; a combination already hinted at in the opener “Sea Mist”.
The peak of this emotional setting is reached with the next song, the pensive and deep “Secrets of the Forest”, which casts a hauntingly beautiful spell over the listener. With a superbly crafted atmosphere and a riveting pan-flute melody, this one evokes a sense of larger than life mysticism and bittersweet melancholy that will linger long after the song has ended.
As we go on to the less sombre, more ethereal “The Cave of Eternal Winter”, the piano once again dishes out pure magic as the album slowly reaches its end.
The last song, the soothing “Gazing at the Stars” feels like a long and heartfelt goodbye, yet with a sweet promise to meet again. The journey is finished here and it’s been a truly enchanting one.
The strongest muscle of the album is the timeless quality of the material and how it’s been handled in its entirety. Nothing about it has been negatively influenced by shallow fads or trends. The production is highly dynamic and crystal clean throughout; artificial compressor loudness and cheap special effects have been consciously omitted. In essence, the mix is a truly flawless, professional piece of work with no compromises anywhere.
While occasionally some tracks might feel a little too fluffy, we should keep in mind that the primary goal of “City in the Clouds” is the expression of emotions, felt while exploring an alternate reality. And, as suggested by the artwork, perceived through the eyes of children. The structure and character of each song only serves this one purpose. If we notice a hint of New Age here or video game music there, it is merely needed as a shape-giving platform for a song and not a voluntary choice of foraging into different musical styles just for the sake of it. Because of that it’s also almost impossible to place a genre label to this, but I assume that Daniel didn’t care too much about that anyway which is a good thing because it undeniably helps to conserve the purity of his vision.
The outcome is an honest labour of love by a talented perfectionist who hasn’t shied away from enormous efforts in order to create the most authentic soundtrack to his imagination.
If you are willing to immerse yourself into a place of serenity and if you can accept the fact that scenery can be presented in a mostly calm and innocent fashion, “City in the Clouds” will be a rewarding experience with each additional spin. Thanks to Daniel’s thoughtful approach and his devotion to the development stages, this has become one of those quality records that won’t lose one bit of the powerful charm it radiates over time.
This is good stuff!
I'm a huge fan of Ghibli movies and Joe Hisashi's music, and I was recommended this album by a friend of mine from Ocremix who said it reminded him of Hisashi's work. I don't know if I'd go that far, but there was definitely a lot to like in this album on it's own.
Other than being an extremely upbeat and sunny album (with some darker spots here and there), what really stood out for me was the insane amount of polish on the production. The tracks aren't really thick with sounds for the most part and that's probably a good thing because it sounds like the original artist meticulously plotted and shined every note you here. It almost seems a bit too much, but I won't ever complain about too much good quality!
The melodies and chord structures don't get very complex on this album. In some ways, I felt like the artist was maybe holding back or intentionally making it overly simple but again, that's not really a problem when it works. The melodies are simple but strong. Not extremely memorable, but it does grow on you after a few listens.
Only thing I don't get about this album is why it's mostly very sunny and pleasant orchestral and easy listening songs, but then it will have these 80s style songs that are darker and use electric guitars and synthesizers. Those tracks are still pretty cool and it even adds some surprise edge to an album you think won't have any teeth, but they still feel out of place all the same, like the artist couldn't decide which style he wanted to do, so he did both.
So I guess I feel like this was maybe a major project the artist had in mind, but wasn't able to really turn it into much more than an album to get all his ideas out. Might not be the case, but if so, it's too bad because all the individual parts are extremely high quality. The songs are really good, but the artwork for them REALLY takes the cake. I kinda wish I had gotten the physical CD instead of the digital so I could have that artbook. Oh well.
If I had to give a final score, I'd probably give it a 7.8/10, or round it up to 8/10. Excellent work, I just wish it had gone farther or been more consistent in its style.
Looking forward to the next one. :)
A Worthy Concept Album
It does not seem like a coincidence that Daniel Lippert's first solo album, of which he spent more than a year in extremely time and resource-consuming effort to build, is about a City In The Clouds - the image of one brings to mind similar themes of the age-old castle in the sky, both the Ghibli anime movie and the allegory for building a masterpiece over a prolonged period of time. Although I'm not convinced this will be the zenith of Daniel Lippert's musical legacy, I could see why Daniel himself might think that - and as long as the artist himself considers it a masterpiece, that's good enough to make it true.
As I went through both the album and booklet (with 16 page mini-art booklet inside) I can see absolutely no expense of time, energy or money spared (except for maybe the CD artwork itself, which is surprisingly minimalist considering the immaculate art on everything else surrounding the album). Where an artist with prolific computer music abilities and personal equipment like Daniel could have it all himself at his home studio, the album credits are full of listings for actual performers on everything you hear. A sticker for the back proudly displays an anti-loudness war attitude from the sticker that blatantly says so on the back to another sticker that actually tells you to turn your speakers up. I've never seen that before... and in fact the real goal of the album itself is just as much a rarity as well - uplifting, pleasant music for uplifting, pleasant people. No unnecessary drama, no aggressive modern genres tacked on to get attention, just Daniel's vision of children exploring a fantasy world without compromise.
He says this album is without genre, but it is very definitely new age music with a few twists here and there. The whole tone of the album is pleasant and sunny with major chords and the warmest, clearest guitars, pianos, woodwinds, synths, and even electric guitar you will ever hear. This isn't just regular new age music quality, you can actually see crystals forming from its clarity and careful mixing. There is no singing on this album, but it doesn't need any either. There is heavy melodic focus on just about every track on here and very deliberate pacing. Nothing on here is particularly iconic, instead Daniel designs the composition so each track will be about as memorable as the rest. If you want consistency in your album quality, this is 50 minutes of it right here.
And it's interesting I write about album consistency on here because the most noteworthy part of the album is how Daniel bounces between two distinct styles - the kind of new age music you hear from modern artists right next to the synth music new age musicians used to do. One track, you'd be forgiven for thinking it was from Joe Hisashi himself, and then it goes into a slightly moodier track with 80s funk bass, 80s drums with 80s reverb, and a synth lead I'd swear was right out of Sonic the Hedgehog. This is both the best and worst thing about the album - because it makes the album considerably more memorable (not to mention they're the best tracks on the album), but not everyone will dig the sudden shift in genre. What could have been the kind of CD candle shops and spas buy and play to keep customers relaxed may see some challenge in that context, but again, it's hard to call that a criticism when they're also the best tracks on the album too.
If I had any real criticisms for the album, I would have liked to see Daniel use up all the CD length for more synth based tracks and maybe one track that sounded more epic to balance the pleasant new age ones. I also wish the synth based ones would have been spread out too, they kind of occupy more the last part of the album where people checking it out and listening to it might get the wrong impression after the all the sunnier, acoustic tracks up front.
And that's all I have to criticize there - minor and subjective things. Objectively, there is no way a healthy human being could ever hate this album, it's just too good at its core. Like how the body needs oxygen to survive, this album is a breath of fresh air by showcasing an artist that wanted to craft a quality product for listeners to enjoy instead of a pretentious need to prove an unearned self-importance for the first time this year. There is no ego or pretense to find here, just quality artwork anyone and everyone can appreciate (and should).
If I had to give it an arbitrary number system to quality it, I'd go for an 8.5/10. Good work all the way around.